Kieron Smith, Boy

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"JAMES KELMAN POSSESSES AN ASTONISHING VOICE." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

James Kelman's triumph in Kieron Smith, boy is to bring us inside the head of a child and remind us what strange and beautiful things happen there.

This is the story of a boyhood in a large industrial city during the time of great social change. Kieron Smith grows from age five to early adolescence amid the general trauma of everyday life—the death of ...

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Kieron Smith, Boy

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"JAMES KELMAN POSSESSES AN ASTONISHING VOICE." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

James Kelman's triumph in Kieron Smith, boy is to bring us inside the head of a child and remind us what strange and beautiful things happen there.

This is the story of a boyhood in a large industrial city during the time of great social change. Kieron Smith grows from age five to early adolescence amid the general trauma of everyday life—the death of a beloved grandparent, the move to a new home. A whole world is brilliantly realized: sectarian football matches; ferryboats on the river; climbing drainpipes, trees, roofs; street battles, dogs, and cats; sex, ghosts, and other spiritual beings.

A masterpiece.

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Editorial Reviews

Marcel Theroux
Kelman is a writer of singular will and sincerity. He is, like many highly original artists, proposing to create the taste by which he is judged. In language and structure, he rejects forms that have worked for other writers. He willfully ducks anything that resembles a decisive climax—as if to write one would do violence to the naturalism of his material. Instead, grittily, by inches, and yammering all the time, Kieron pulls himself virtually unaided into young manhood.
—The New York Times
Peter Behrens
James Kelman's splendid evocation of childhood in mid-20th-century Glasgow…This funny, sad and deeply entrancing novel works as dreams do: by seduction, by raising strange spirits, and by delivering a world entire. It represents a triumph for Kelman, as hard and uproarious as a Glasgow Saturday night.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Kieron Smith's coming-of-age in a rough Glasgow neighborhood is grimly rendered by Kelman in this stark and affecting novel. The younger of two boys, Kieron is overlooked and seen as simple compared to his brother, Matt, the "smart one." Kieron's only safe haven is his grandparents' house, where his grannie treats him as the favorite and his granda and uncle teach him to fight (Uncle Billy suggests Kieron use a brick against larger bullies). But when the family moves across town to a better neighborhood, Kieron falls in with a group of rowdy youth from his new primary school, including Mitch, an angry, abused child, and he takes to climbing drainpipes and scampering across rooftops as an outlet for his frustrations. As the years tick by, Kieron's relationships with his family disintegrate (things with Matt get especially bad), and Kelman's raw, blunt narration drives home all of Kieron's loneliness, sadness and feelings of inadequacy. If you can roll with the Scots dialect, the narrative is rewarding, bleak and marvelous. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Set in late 1950s Glasgow, Kelman's latest (after You Have To Be Careful in the Land of the Free) novel vividly portrays a boy's growing up from the boy's perspective. Kieron Smith lives in a rough, inner-city neighborhood with his seaman father, his mother, and his studious (and more favored) older brother. Taking him from ages five to 12, the events recounted are those of everyday life-Kieron moves to a new house on the edge of the city, his beloved grandfather dies, he graduates from elementary school to attend the same "posh" school as his brother. Kelman gets Kieron's voice just right-innocent and profane by turns and always thick with the local dialect. While frank and powerful in its portrayal of working-class life and the inner consciousness of a young boy, the novel can be challenging reading owing to its overwhelming accretion of detail. It can seem strangely shapeless at times and about 100 pages too long. Nevertheless, there are numerous rewards for those who persist. Recommended for larger public libraries.
—Lawrence Rungren

Kirkus Reviews

A child's vision of his rough-and-tumble world occupies the latest from Scottish author Kelman (You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free, 2004, etc.).

For Kieron, it's all a matter of size. There are big boys and wee boys, and Kieron is a wee boy. Later, other distinctions emerge. In his native Glasgow, there are Papes (Catholics) and Proddies (Protestants). Members of the rival religions lead separate lives, though Kieron (a Protestant) has a few Catholic friends. He tells his story pell-mell; the syntax is disjointed; dialect words add flavor to his rambling account. Kieron lives in cramped quarters with his mother and unfriendly big brother Matt (size again). Tensions mount when his grumpy father leaves the Merchant Marine to take a factory job. Kieron finds more love at his grandparents' place. There are soccer games with his pals, but best of all is climbing: walls, trees and drainpipes (his specialty). The joy of physical exertion saves him from an otherwise dreary childhood of petty restrictions. Kelman doesn't supply a plot and leaves characterization fuzzy, but he captures Kieron's consciousness and character formation as he interprets the world and argues with himself. This inner dialogue is often circular and tedious, but there is one moment, after Kieron experiences the death of a loved one, when he lets rip in a fine transcendent passage that marks him as a young fatalist. He turns 12 and goes to a new school, which he hates (all that homework), slipping into truancy as he gets a small job making deliveries. He dreams of running away with his best friend Mitch, a freeloader who steals from his folks, and finds relief in swearing (formerly taboo). He's at thethreshold of sexual adventure, but he seems headed for a bleak future in the underclass.

Though it's a vivid reminder that childhood is a foreign country, the book is way too long and self-indulgent.

From the Publisher

"James Kelman possesses an astonishing voice . . . Read a page of Kelman and you can't help but laud his sheer virtuosity."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World


"It may be the best book we've had thus far about the political and social reverberations of 9/11 in this country."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

London Review of Books - James Meek
"Kelman is...a radical Modernist writer of exceptional brilliance...still writing great books, climbing."
Booklist (starred)
"A known master at portraying the details of life in Scotland and capturing, pitch-perfectly, the dialogue of his characters, Kelman here brings the inner and outer lives of a likable, often misunderstood boy fully into focus."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141014890
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

JAMES KELMAN is the author of a number of novels and collections of short stories, including Busted Scotch; Greyhound for Breakfast; A Disaffection, awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; How Late it Was, How Late, winner of the Booker Prize; and, most recently, You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free. He lives in Glasgow.

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Customer Reviews

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